Hales Mansion at 509 N. Oak Park Ave. (Provided)
Henry Fiddelke (Courtesy of Historical Society of OPRF)

Chances are, if you live in Oak Park, River Forest or Forest Park, you’ve driven by or walked into one of the many designs of architect Henry Fiddelke. While the architect’s name might not be quite as famous as that of his contemporary, Frank Lloyd Wright, his work in the near west suburbs shaped the residential and commercial landscapes of several villages.

Born in 1865 in Matteson, he started working in the architecture offices of Joseph Silsbee in Chicago in 1885. Fiddelke later worked for the office of Jenney and Mundie before becoming a licensed architect himself. By 1894, he was working in the Oak Park office of architect Frank Ellis. Fiddelke started his own firm in Oak Park in 1895.

Though born in Illinois, Fiddelke was of German heritage and was an active member of the German Baptist Church, at Harlem Avenue and Dixon Street in Forest Park. His work in the late 1800s on commercial buildings on Madison Street in Forest Park exists today and gives the popular strip of restaurants and stores a German flair. 

Many of these designs feature a brick first floor with highly ornamental designs in the details of window trim, brackets, arches and bays. Among the buildings still standing are 7403-05 Madison St., which houses NRebozo and Moss; 7429 Madison St. (Forest Park Liquors); 7244 Madison St. (O’Sullivan’s Public House); 7446 Madison St. (Epyk Luxury); and 7506 Madison St. (Macdaddy Salon).

Some 20 years later, Fiddelke played a role in designing Oak Park’s commercial district with his design for the Parkside Building in the 1000 block of North Boulevard in 1916. Named through a newspaper competition, the building was designed for local businessman Leo Barr who owned a dry goods company. Today, The Beer Shop and Careful Peach are among the retailers utilizing the building. 

Like the Forest Park buildings, the Parkside Building shows Fiddelke’s flair with ornamental details in the corbels and door and window surrounds. Fiddelke also designed the original Holmes School in Oak Park at Chicago and Kenilworth Avenues. The school was razed in 1958.

Over the decades that he worked in Oak Park, much of it from his offices at 203 S. Marion St. (later Drechsler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home), his work spanned a variety of styles.

In the 1890s, he worked with Frank Ellis to design the John Seaman House at 139 S. Grove Ave. One of the area’s most expensive homes when it was built for Seaman, who was a barrel-maker by trade, the house’s Victorian interior was decorated with many different varieties of woods and Victorian flourishes throughout.

One of Fiddelke’s most significant designs is the Burton Hales Mansion, at the corner of Oak Park and Chicago Avenue in Oak Park. The Tudor Revival limestone home measures roughly 9,500 square feet and was designed in 1903 for Hales, who was the chair of the Northwest Malt and Grain Company. The house was Fiddelke’s largest residential job in Oak Park. 

Shortly after this commission, Fiddelke worked with Hales to design several smaller, speculative homes behind the Hales Mansion on Grove Avenue in 1910. 

Dr. Clarence Hemingway hired Fiddelke to design his family’s new home at 600 N. Kenilworth Ave. Built in 1906, the four-square style home is in a simpler, unadorned Prairie style. 

Clad in stucco, it features a deep front porch. Ernest Hemingway lived in the home from the age of 6 until he left Oak Park at the age of 20. His mother Grace lived in the home until she moved to River Forest in 1936.

That same year, Fiddelke designed the home at 547 N. Euclid Ave. for the family of W.A. Walters. Constructed of Roman brick, the Prairie style home has Arts & Crafts detailing in its art glass. The impressive brick home appears to be influenced by the work of one of Fiddelke’s former co-workers, George Maher, who designed Oak Park’s Pleasant Home.  

On that same block, Fiddelke’s designs show his breadth of styles. The home at 507 N. Euclid Ave. was designed in the early 1900s for E.P. Jennings, and the white Neoclassical style home sports large columns and porches fronting Chicago Avenue.

At 517 N. Euclid Ave., the W.G. Adams Home was built in the 1890s. The Queen Anne Victorian style home sports a decorative pediment over the front steps of the home’s porch.

Other blocks in Oak Park also showcase the depth of Fiddelke’s design skills, such as the 500 block of North Elmwood Avenue in Oak Park, where he designed several residences. 

The Albert Johns House, designed in 1912, and the George Fritts House, designed in 1908, show different decorative flourishes in the ornamentation on their porch columns and window surrounds.

Fiddelke also worked with families on multiple homes, for multiple generations. He designed a Queen Anne style home for William Ruppert in Oak Park in 1902, and then designed Ruppert’s second home in Oak Park in 1906. 

In 1896, he designed a Queen Anne style home for Charles Kannenberg in Oak Park. Ten years later, Kannenberg converted that home to rental units, and in 1910, Fiddelke designed Kannenberg’s new Oak Park bungalow. Kannenberg’s son, Baldwin, hired Fiddelke to design his River Forest bungalow in 1916.

Few of the school and bank buildings that Fiddelke designed remain standing, but his commercial buildings continue to contribute to the historic charm of the western suburbs. More than 50 of his homes survive in Oak Park with more throughout the western suburbs. He retired in 1929 and died in 1931.  

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